Monday, July 30, 2012

in the shadow of bliss

The over-emphasis of the blissful aspects of yoga, in an attempt to ‘sell’ the practice appeals to our basest needs for pleasure. Yes, yoga can make you feel good, euphoric even, but reducing it to a mere feel-good drug robs us of the transformational benefits of the practice, and it can often set us up for failure. Yoga is a relationship. Expecting it to only be easy and full of pleasure is like expecting a relationship to be an easy ride, one that requires no work or effort on our part. Like all relationships, yoga asks us to work, to show up and be present, and to stick with it even when we feel like no progress is being made, when we feel that we are ‘no good’ at it, or when its sheer repetitiveness and routine bores us to death. When I say yoga is difficult, I don’t mean physically challenging, though coming face to face with a stubborn hamstring or an aching shoulder can bring about feelings of frustration, insecurity, and anger to the forefront. This practice can be difficult at times, no matter the level or the style of the class, because the shadow side of bliss is, well, not so blissful; the shadow side of bliss is grief and discomfort. The shadow side of grace is clumsiness. Yoga is a process of transcending pairs of opposites: bliss and grief, grace and clumsiness, the good and the bad. We cannot pick and choose the fun and exciting parts of the practice over its more mundane and frustrating aspects, any more than a parent can choose only the easy and sweet moments with their child.

Things to keep in mind:

-Plateaus are part of the practice, an essential part that tests our patience and our faith in the process of yoga. Like any learning process, after periods of rapid acceleration, there is a period of integration. And this period can make you feel like nothing is happening, that you are not making progress. At times, it even feels like you might be regressing. It happens to all of us, and the most important thing to remember is to keep practicing. It helps to change something in the way that you practice: change something about the way you breathe, how you move in and out of the poses, a fresh look at your alignment perhaps. Do not become so attached to the way that you practice that you are no longer open to learning. 

-The practice is a process. The ‘goals’—be they learning Ujjayi, doing a handstand, or simply sitting with no pain in the hips and knees--are much less interesting than what is happening daily, practice by practice, on your path to your chosen goals. What is your mind doing? What fluctuates inside as that handstand seems far from your reach? Paying attention IS the practice.

-Stillness wins out every time. When frustration rears its head, and you pay attention and notice what your mind is telling you, being still without trying to do anything with the feeling, pausing, will help you see that frustration is an energy that moves in, and just as swiftly, will move out. The same is true of bliss. If we try to hold on to that wonderful sense of buoyancy at the end of our practice, it will, surely, slip away from us. This, too, is part of the process.